The landscape of our profession is continually changing, and we have new tools to learn almost daily, but a commitment to fundamentals is what makes one PR practitioner stand out from the next. We’re a fast-learning, information-hungry bunch, committed to understanding the latest trends. We should also show a commitment to traditional PR principles.
The brief, casual language of social media has confused some people on what good writing requires. As someone who’s been in the profession for a few years, I’d also add that writing is often overlooked as an essential.
Messages in 140 characters won’t always get you where you need to go. Here are two reasons why PR practitioners should embrace solid writing skills:
We pitch writers every day. You know those journalists you reach out to daily? Odds are they’ve been well trained in the craft of writing. It’s our job to impress them with materials so well written that they can copy and paste them.
Clients expect us to write for them. Whether it’s for an op-ed, brochure, speech or annual report, companies hire PR people so company employees don’t have to do the heavy writing. Wow them with sharp prose and articulate delivery. Clients should not have to correct or edit work that their PR team sends to them (unless they edit for personal preference, which I think we all witness more often than we’d like).
Whether you are a PR newbie or seasoned veteran, here are five ways to improve if you aren’t confident with your writing.
1. Practice self-editing. Whenever I proof documents for my colleagues, I often find simple, obvious errors that could be avoided with some basic self-editing. Take the time to proof and revise your own work. It makes a huge difference.
2. Use subject + verb sentence construction. Elementary school English teachers tried to drill this into our young brains, but most of us forget the basic subject + verb construction when we get into heavy writing. Writing sentences this way keeps them concise and focused, so revisit the time-tested lesson.
3. Avoid weak constructions. This is part two on sentence construction. When you forget to use simple subject-plus-verb construction, you may have a sentence that reads like this:I secured coverage by calling the reporter 16 times. Compare that with this stronger sentence: I called the reporter 16 times to secure coverage.
4. Watch out for over-capitalization. People love capital letters. Sometimes they throw a capital letter into the middle of a sentence on a random word. Remember that for the most part, only proper nouns, titles preceding a name and the formal names of organizations should be capitalized. Check out The Associated Press Stylebook if you want stricter guidelines.
5. Learn and love style guides. The preferred style for PR writing is AP style. Buy a book, learn it, read it, love it. Use it when proofing every document you write. If your agency or organization prefers a different style, then buy that manual, learn it and love it. You should use AP style to write and edit all media materials—press releases, op-eds and any other media-specific literature.
Technological tools cannot replace the universal communication that we all share—writing. We have to communicate with the written word. The more we polish our writing, the more effectively we will communicate with one another and with our audiences.
It also adds a competitive edge. When it comes down to a company’s selecting its new PR firm, it could hinge on one final detail. That detail might just be which firm’s proposal exhibited stronger writing capabilities. A PR firm with a team of good writers has an advantage: It can meet any writing challenge.
Do you know the difference between a clause and a fragment? Which versus that? Passive versus active voice? If not, take a class or attend a seminar. Polish those writing skills until they shine.